Combining transportation engineering and SF? A woman who runs fangirlblog.com? Well when I met Tricia Barr she was progeeky as they come - and diverse. You know the drill around here - I sent her an interview.
1) Tricia tell us a little bit about yourself - and you're doing absolutely incredibly geeky things!
On the career side, I’m a Professional Engineer who specializes in transportation design. I’m also a competitive equestrian, showing my horse in the adult amateur divisions; I’ve even finished in the top ten nationally a few times. I’ve been a Star Wars fan since 1977, and an unabashed geek. I never went through that phase of feeling like being a fangirl was something to be ashamed of. In the past couple of years I began blogging about fangirls, storytelling, Star Wars, and my horse, who is named after a Star Wars character. Blogging has opened some doors for me, and I am now contributor to Random House’s science fiction and fantasy blog Suvudu, have participated on Star Wars’ number one fan podcast the ForceCast several times, and just the other day had a chance to talk about Star Wars action on ActionFlickChick. I have a few more opportunities in the works, too. People interested in what I’m doing can follow me on Twitter @fangirlcantina or check out my blog.
2) You're an engineer in an important area. Tell us a bit about that and how you got there.
My dad was a mechanical engineer, and I really liked numbers and science, so I thought engineering school would be fun. I earned a degree in civil engineering from Duke University, then went on to do my engineering internship in transportation and finally became licensed to sign my own plans. I’ve built a specialty in signalization and operational engineering. It can be a bit complicated, between the structural aspect and the traffic timing; there are six to seven computer programs involved in designing an intersection improvement with signals. I enjoy the challenge. I’ve found that my artistic background – I was a member of the National Dance Team, the Duke Dance Team, a musical theater performer, and also trained in piano and flute – has helped me look at my engineering work with both left brain and right brain skills. I think it’s made me better at my job.
3) You run fangirlblog.com. How did that come about?
The blog is really a function of needing a place to allow other voices to be heard in the fandom. Not that I don’t like fanboys, but certain groups and limited perspectives really dominated the internet landscape when I first ventured into fan message boards. A lot of women felt like their opinions were getting swept under the rug. With the rise of blogs, it’s much easier to create a forum to voice your opinion. The trick is to not get lost in the swell of voices. I’ve identified some keys to succeeding; they are to have a vision for your blog, to maintain high quality, and to connect with as many other fans as possible.
4) Does that help with your fiction writing?
I’ve heard authors say writing is like a muscle, and that you should use it every day. If I’m working through something in my novel and can’t quite get it onto the page, I still write for the blog. So I put words on the page every day. I’ve also done a lot of critical analytical looks at storytelling for the blog, and that’s helped me form better ideas for my own story. The side benefit of blogging is the exposure it creates for when my book eventually does come out. Every unique visitor to my blog is a potential reader, and in the back of my mind I know that more than one aspiring author has been discovered through excerpts or by posting early chapters.
5) Your fiction writing is SF, and you told me that your infrastructure engineering helps. Tell me a bit about that.
The biggest takeaway from my engineering career is understanding the principles of marketing and branding. Corporations do a lot of training because engineers don’t just sit at a desk and design. Once you’ve got that license, an engineer has to run financials, win clients, manage other employees, and deal with stakeholders, which a lot of time is the driving public. At one point in my career I managed 13 employees and had 80 active jobs in various phases of design. I see a lot of authors who think they can just write good books and the rest will take care of itself, especially if they’ve signed a book deal. In my mind the writing is the easy part; the success of a product depends on how well the author sells by penetrating the market and engaging potential readers. Authors have to become brands; when you pick up Stephen King or James Patterson you know what to expect, just like if you went to the McDonald’s drive-thru you know what to expect. That’s how I want to approach selling my books, just like I would my engineering work. Right now, the plan is to self-publish, but I wouldn’t approach the marketing side any differently were I picked up by a publisher.
6) So how did you get to doing the book and how are you making it a success?
About ten years ago I discovered fanfiction, wrote that for a few years, and won a bunch of fan awards for it. After listening to an author teach a writing class at the last Star Wars convention, I realized I had plenty of practice and perhaps it was time to write my own original fiction. Things are so fluid in the publishing industry that I think this is the right time to jump in. It’s still a bit daunting, and for a while I wondered if I could make it all happen while working full-time. I found some inspiration last year by way of voice actor James Arnold Taylor, who voices Obi-Wan on The Clone Wars. In his live show at Disney Star Wars Weekend he talked about living his dream, and I walked away feeling very inspired to make my dream happen.
The book Wynde is the first in the five-part Fireheart series that I’m planning. I wanted to write the kind of great female heroine I’d like to read about, and write a heroine’s journey – a coming of age story – that really pushes reader’s expectations, smashes a few tropes, and is lots of fun. I love fighter pilots, mystical storytelling, romance, and exploring philosophical dilemmas. With space opera I felt there were no boundaries on doing all that. Essentially this story has been cooking in my mind for years, and I think that process will create a great epic adventure that both women and men will love to read. So far the feedback for the first half of the book has been fantastic. My dad, who is very critical and not a scifi fan, asked when he could see the book as a movie after reading Act One; my editor literally sends me texts while he’s redlining telling me how fun the book is. Excerpts and a teaser trailer are available at my author website www.TriciaBarr.com.
7) You are a model professional geek in many ways. Any advice for our profans and hopeful profans out there?
Have fun, and remember that everyone comes at the fandom with a different take on it. Fandom fun can be tough on the internet, though, because people can hide behind anonymity. If someone disagrees with your opinion or tastes, don’t take it personally, just agree to disagree. If you are subject to personal attacks, which do happen, try to let things slip off your back; it’s hard to walk away sometimes, but your energy is better served being constructive. I have one important exception, though, which is also important in the professional world – don’t let anyone misrepresent what you have said or done. If you’re trying to brand yourself, this is very important to maintaining that brand.
My most important advice is to focus on quality and sticking with subjects you’re passionate about, and have fun!
Thanks Tricia. Everyone, be sure to check out her book, twitter, website . . . well, all of it!